Haitian President Jovenel Moise has rejected calls for his resignation and promised unspecified economic measures after more than a week of deadly anti-government protests.
His administration rocked by soaring inflation and accusations of corruption, Moise said he will not allow the country to fall into the hands of criminals and urged dialogue to end a recent wave of violent demonstrations in the capital of Port-au-Prince.
Moise’s stance came as the United States issued a “Do not travel” advisory to the island and Canada made plans to evacuate more than 100 of its citizens from a resort in Haiti.
For more than a week, protesters have set cars ablaze and clashed with police amid gasoline shortages, reports of widespread looting, and demands that Moise and Prime Minister Jean-Henry Céant step down.
Several people have been killed, according to local media reports. CNN hasn’t been able to independently confirm the number of protest-related fatalities.
Haiti has seen bursts of deadly demonstrations since July, following a government-imposed fuel hike, prompting the US Embassy to warn citizens to stay off the streets. At the time, Céant replaced former Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant, who resigned in mid-July before an expected parliamentary vote of no confidence.
Late Thursday, Moise was defiant to calls for him to step down.
“I will not leave the country in the hands of armed gangs and drug traffickers,” he said in a speech broadcast on national television and live streamed on Facebook.
“I will never betray you,” the President added, urging the Haitian people to support him and vowing unspecified economic measures “to relieve our pain.”
Organization of American States Secretary Luis Almagro met with Haitian Minister of Foreign Affairs Bocchit Edmond in Washington on Thursday to discuss the protests.
“We call upon all actors to fully participate in the dialogue process, to respect the democratic process, and to resort to peaceful ways to solve conflicts,” Almagro tweeted.
The US State Department on Thursday issued a Level 4 “Do not travel” travel advisory for Haiti, citing “crime and civil unrest” and “widespread, violent, and unpredictable demonstrations in Port-au-Prince and elsewhere in Haiti.”
The State Department ordered all “non-emergency US personnel and their families” to leave Haiti, saying the country has “limited ability to provide emergency services to US citizens in Haiti.”
“Protests, tire burning, and road blockages are frequent and unpredictable,” the advisory stated.
“Violent crime, such as armed robbery, is common. Local police may lack the resources to respond effectively to serious criminal incidents, and emergency response, including ambulance service, is limited or non-existent.”
In a statement, the US Embassy in Haiti urged political parties, elected officials and citizens to engage in a national dialogue.
“Genuine dialogue and compromise, leading to a transparent and accountable government, can best serve the needs and aspirations of the Haitian people,” the statement said.
Since February 7, when the protests started, “the Haitian people have suffered increasing violence, resulting in the death of innocent civilians and the destruction of public and private property,” the statement said.
The Pentagon has sent about 10 additional US Marines to augment a similar number posted in Haiti to provide security at the US Embassy in Port-au-Prince, two US officials told CNN Friday. In July, the embassy requested additional US Marines and State Department security personnel to bolster security during violent demonstrations in the Haitian capital.
Canada also issued a travel advisory. Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said that Canadians requiring emergency consular assistance in Haiti may contact the emergency watch and response center, as the Canadian Embassy in Haiti was closed on Thursday.
Canadian leisure airline Air Transat was “finalizing an evacuation plan” Friday afternoon for 113 customers who had vacation packages at the Royal Decameron Indigo Beach Resort & Spa, according to airline spokesman Christophe Hennebelle.
The flight was “orchestrated in collaboration with the local authorities, the Canadian Embassy in Haiti and the government of Canada, to ensure the safety of our passengers.”
Hennebelle said the tourists were “perfectly safe” but could not be immediately evacuated because the road to the airport was “blocked and unsafe.” Air Transat runs two weekly flights between Montreal and Port-au-Prince on Wednesdays and Sundays.
The 113 tourists were to be transported Saturday from the hotel to the airport in Port-au-Prince on three helicopters, Radio-Canada reported.
Radio-Canada also reported that Canada was suspending deportations of Haitians to their homeland because of the violence.
The Committee to Protect Journalists said reporters have been targeted by some demonstrators. The reporters include Haitian correspondent Robenson Sanon, who was wounded this week while covering the protests for Reuters. Sanon told the CPJ that he believes he was caught in crossfire by armed protesters.
Sunday, the head of the Haitian National Police, Michel-Ange Gedeo, said “malicious individuals” hurling stones and firing weapons had infiltrated protests that started February 7.
CNN en Espanol’s Daniel Silva Fernandez and CNN’s Claudia Dominguez contributed to this report.